For many of us, this is a busy time a year. We have the bustle of life, our families, our job or school and the holidays. This busy schedule prompted me to think about how, in school, I was told that as a social worker there will always be more work than time. I bet some of you are looking at possibly going back to school, or starting a new job, or trying not to be overwhelmed with a current job and wonder how do people do it all?
In my career as a supervisor, one area that new workers often seem to be lacking in, is the practicalities of how to organize their time, their tasks and caseloads in a way that works. In the past, I might suggest to someone I supervise different ways to organize, then I would back off. I told them they would figure out what works for them. It turns out I should have been more directive. I may not have tips that will take all the busy away but I can give you ideas on organizing at work and school.
- Accept that you may have to use time to get time – Time is a very valuable commodity for most of us. You might have all these ideas on better ways to organize and keep your tasks and papers easy to find but balk at the time it will take. Accept that the energy and time you put in now to organize will pay off when you are done. Not taking the time to organize will not make the busy go away.
- Write a to-do list. – I know it seems obvious but I don’t know how many times I have suggested to someone to write down their tasks. I have to suggest it because they aren’t doing it! I use a spiral notebook, write my tasks, and write who it pertains to and cross it out when I finish the task. You can keep a list on paper or your phone – just keep a list. I have one worker who pulls out his phone every supervision session with a list of topics to discuss. I have another worker who would rather use technology but keeping lists on his computer or phone didn’t work – he’d never check back – so he started using a notebook. Figure out what works best for you.
- Prioritize – Everything does not have to be done now. One of my old supervisors was super crisis oriented. I would say to her – if everything is an emergency than nothing is an emergency. Use this for your tasks too. Everything isn’t vital. Look at your to-do list. Ask yourself what tasks have deadlines or what is urgent and what can wait. Number them in order of importance. One of my staff uses red, yellow, green to determine what he needs to do next with red being most urgent.
- Don’t keep putting off what you hate to do. – A teacher once said to me that if something is on our to-do list and we don’t do it – there is something about it we don’t like, are avoiding and we should probably do it first. I consider this whenever I have something that doesn’t seem to leave my list and I make myself do it. It seems to free up time because the anticipation of having to do it is gone.
- Spreadsheets (with color coding if you are ambitious.) – I am not a super detail oriented person. I am organized and observant but I just don’t always care about the details. That being said, I generally have 4-5 spreadsheets open at any given time. As social workers and students, there so much information we hold that it is essential to organize it some way. I have seen over 200 clients in private practice. I supervise 9 staff and between us work with several hundred more clients. Spreadsheets really help keep information in order
- Pre-planning is your friend. – Use a calendar – paperwork or online. Fill it in and use it. You will save a lot of time if you pre-plan. You can cluster appointments near each other or plan your phone calls when you know you have a quiet time. You don’t waste time always deciding what to do next – you planned for it already. Make sure to include time for administrative tasks and breaks. I encourage my team to make sure they take some time off during the day. I also encourage them to block out times where they can be on “do not disturb” and just do paperwork or documentation
- Don’t let your email box get overrun. – In my inbox, I only leave any email that I have to follow up with somehow. As soon as I am done with follow-up, I move it to a folder or delete it. (I also encourage you to use delete with abandon. I am all about having a paper trail but I don’t really need to save the 20 emails about what everyone is bringing to a potluck. ) It is not unusual for me to receive 150 or more emails a day. I have a personal rule that I try to never leave more than 20 emails in my inbox at the end of the day and I’m generally successful! This means that the emails I need are easy to find and I am keeping up with my tasks. I had a supervisor once that when she showed me her email and she had over 15000 emails in her inbox. Yes – 15000. There is no way for you to keep up if you have an inbox like that. Try to get your emails out of your inbox as fast as they come in.
- Be realistic – When creating your schedule don’t let your ambition get the better of you. Realistically, do you have time to do the tasks you scheduled? If you don’t, you will just have to find another time to fit them in.
- Change your thought process. You may have to do your job but you are only human. At a previous job I supervised, care coordinators had a gigantic amount of paperwork and responsibilities. I would sometimes put Post-it notes around the office. I would write on them “you can only do what you can do” or “One thing at a time” or “It will all get done eventually.” You can’t do everything so when it seems overwhelming – give yourself some positive self-talk. Everything will get done.
This is a busy time a year and there is too much to do. I often say that we should not wish time away but live every day. Hopefully, some of these tips for organizing as a student or social worker will let you find some more time.